It’s a very good week to become Belgian.

An anonymous looking letter from the commune was waiting for me when I got home last night.

It’s been four months, and bang on schedule my Belgian nationality application has been approved.

I am pleased that the process is complete, but I get a warm glow about the timing. Sometime in the next week the Conservative Party in the UK is expected announce that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will become its leader and therefore Prime Minister.

Back in the 1980s with the assurance I youth I spoke out loud and said “If Maggie Thatcher gets elected again I’m going to emigrate.” Life takes over, it never happened until the wonderful chance was given to us by European Cyclists’ Federation to come and try life in Belgium.

Taking Belgian nationality wasn’t automatic when we arrived, as an EU citizen I had a secure job and stability in Belgium. With Brexit and knowing that Boris is intent on the political equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade I would be completely stupid not to make sure my life can continue. To get the nationality approved on the week he becomes Prime Minister is invisible to him, but it has a symbolic value for me.

Belgium is no utopia (where is?), there are a different set of challenges and issues that can easily cause hair pulling and teeth grinding. But I feel that am very lucky that I have the chance to stand apart from the sadness I feel about what is happening to the UK, to its place in the world, the hardening of attitudes that feel so alien to ideas of “home”.

That is summed up by the appointment of Boris, and by the contrasting experience of nationality applications between the UK and Belgium. Theresa May’s legacy of intolerance as Home Secretary leaves an immigration system creating a trail of families torn apart, much needed professionals sent home and an expectation that the NHS cannot be staffed and food will rot in the fields.

People who have contributed to society, raised families and paid far over the average level of tax are being told that Britain is not for them. And even if you pass the climate of intolerance the process of citizenship is slow, stressful and expensive. We know, because my wife went through it after 28 years of living in the UK.

For Belgian nationality there are four tests. Social integration, economic integration, community integration and linguistic integration.  However if you have been continuously registered and employed in the country for 5 years there is an automatic assumption that you are a stable participant in the life of the country.

And when it comes to the application I get no sense that I have signed up for feudal servitude to a medieval institution. I signed to say I accept the constitution (written) and a commitment to human rights, both of which I can happily do.

Frites, beer, chocolate, cycling classics, potholes in the road, shops closed on Mondays, tranquillity laws, multilingualism, etc etc …….., I have signed up to all of it and I have been accepted.

Thank you Belgium.

A trip to Paris with campaigners – but not a yellow jacket in sight

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I spent Friday and Saturday of last week at the centre of one of the news stories of the weekend – the invasion of Paris by “gilets jaunes”, the yellow jacket protestors against the French government. However, our group of … Continue reading

Hidden delights – Copenhagen Canal tour

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I am spending two weeks in Copenhagen, which is pretty much close to perfection if you believe that cycling is a symbol of quality of life. However today I had a perfect treat, possibly the only way I could experience … Continue reading

A taste of the future? Testing Lime’s shared scooters on the the car-free river banks of Paris

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A short trip to Paris enabled my son and I to do our own test of two new features of life in Paris – the linear car free routes along the Seine that have been created by the simple act … Continue reading

Great rides: Rio de Janeiro’s spectacular 2016 Olympic Cycle Road Race course

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This blog post is about the unexpected discovery of a stunning bike ride that will live long in my memory. When I planned my trip to Rio de Janeiro for the Velo-city 2018 cycling conference my expectations were based on … Continue reading

Rio de Janierio for Velo-city 2018 – Spectacular urban bike tour

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By contrast to my rolling around the hills and beaches of Rio for fun at the weekend Monday was an urban day with our annual cycle tour for city officials from members of the ECF’s Cities and Regions for Cyclists … Continue reading

Rio de Janeiro for Velo-city 2018. Day 1 – a taste of things to come.

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After a long-haul flight and with sure knowledge of a very busy week ahead it is a pleasure to have a day of orientation and relaxation in a new city, a new country, in fact a new continent. So that … Continue reading